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Recollection by Matt Vernon March 19,2017:
“April 17, 1971 was the first time I saw the Grateful Dead perform live. I was a junior in high school and the Grateful Dead were my most favored band. I had listened to their albums countless number of times.
There is a long essay in the Taper’s Compendium which agrees with much of what I remember though given the concert was 46 years ago my memories may have become distorted by the passage of time.
The weather was a perfect spring day on the Princeton campus. The Princeton gym is not large with retractable bleacher seats on the sides and folding chairs set up on the floor in front of the stage. The stage was about 3 feet high set up toward one end.
We were early to arrive around 5 pm and walked in to a basically empty gym and sat in the first row of folding chairs. There was maybe a 15 feet gap between the 1st row of chairs and the stage. This was the era when the speaker screens were tie-dyed and I had time to look and walk around and observe how the stage was set up.
The New Rider’s opened with Garcia on pedal steel and Spencer Dryden (Jefferson Airplane) on drums. When the NRPS set finished I left my 1st row seat and went to the front of the stage in front of what would be Phil Lesh’s position.
As the intermission between NRPS and the first Dead set neared its end the area in front of the stage and the 1st row of chairs was now crowded with people. I took the opportunity to hoist myself up and sit on the front edge of the stage with my back against the left side PA stack. I would remain here for the remainder of the show. At this time there was not the formal separation of the band and audience that would exist in later years. You could see many people backstage including some of my friends.
The location was perfect. First, I have always been a “bass” person so being a few feet in front of Lesh’s microphone meant I was literally in the Philzone. The other upside was Garcia would angle himself so it seemed he was looking directly at me. This was because he would be looking at Phil or when Pigpen was singing center stage I was in Garcia’s line of sight.
I won’t review the music which you can hear in near perfect format on this source. But will make a few comments on the aspects of the performance which can’t come across on tape. First, during the show it was clear to me how Pigpen heavy show it was, as the songs rotated with Bob, Jerry and Pigpen doing vocals. Also, members of the NRPS stood behind Bill and played various hand percussion instruments.
During the two Pigpen rap songs (Good Lovin’ and Lovelight) I was about 10 feet away from Pigpen when he was stage center. Its’ hard to describe Pigpen’s command of the stage (he has a small stature) but my attention was fully concentrated on his way of accenting notes bringing the mic near his mouth and using his body and hands to communicate to the band when he was going into one of his “raps” - when to pause and when to accent his vocals.
Here was where my location turned out to be perfect. For Jerry would rotate to watch Pigpen and accent Pig’s comments with riffs and his own facial expressions - grins and chuckles - and noted above I was in his direct line of sight on the other side of Pigpen.
When it came time for the Bob and Barbara match up in Lovelight they were about 3 feet away. Pigpen would bend down when talking to them very much the matchmaker.
During the intermission between the 2 Dead sets, Phil gave me a cylindrical paper pint container with beer to drink. By this time it was sufficiently crowded that I couldn’t easily leave my perch and it was now hot inside the gym. Before the start of the 2nd Dead set, a woman threw a note on stage to Phil. Phil picked it up and read it and chuckled then gave it to me.
The note said something like “If you want to come to a place where people like you call Emily” then a phone number.
When the show was over it took a while for the crowd to dissipate so I could leave my perch. On the way out there were large piles of the folding chairs cleared to make room for dancing and what not in front of the stage.
I also saw the reel-reel tape deck about 30-40 feet in front of the stage - at the time I was wondering if it would be used for a live recording.
Amazing that I can listen to the show this many years later.
June 3, 2020 Subject:
Anyone unfamiliar with this show should pause reading this NOW, copy the Archive address here to add to your collection, and listen as soon as possible! This is an awesome, justly famous show that will get you hoppin' and boppin'! Apart from Pig being in top form, the psychedelic interplay between the rest of the band members during Good Lovin' is very far out. This is R&B with mind-boggling twists and turns, folks. And does Pigpen let his Lovelight shine brightly! The rap here is well-known as the most elaborate and coolest of any performance ever, of this song.
I'll never understand why this has never been released commercially. Makes no sense. An essential, legendary show.
April 6, 2017 Subject:
to buzz all night long,,